Judge William B. McKesson, of the Juvenile Court in Los Angeles, appears in the film as narrator and relates the incidents in these cases which he has handled in his court. In studying the facts in each of the cases, Judge McKesson, addressing teenagers, says that the surprising thing is that smart young people can be such "suckers." He points out that people who fall for most of the ruses of sexual criminals are as much "suckers" as the people who "bite" on the carnival sharpies' loaded guessing games. (e.g., the shell game, etc.)
The first case relates the experiences of a teenage couple making love in a car parked on a lonely road. A man who has been lurking in the shadows covers them with a gun, forces them out of the car, steals their money and jewelry, locks the young man in the trunk of the car, and attacks the girl. Fortunately both escape with their lives.
The second case is that of Mary Hansen, who placed an ad in the newspaper for babysitting work. Both she and her mother are taken in by a strange man who calls for Mary's services. When Mary is long overdue at home, her mother calls the telephone number which the stranger gave, only to find out that the man has no connection with this telephone number. An article in the paper the next day told the story of Mary Hansen's having been slain by an unknown assailant.
Headlines in another paper, "School Girl Found Unconscious in the Hills," tell the story of Ethel Ryan, who foolishly accepted a date with an older man whose name and background she did not know.
Again, talking to the teenagers, Judge McKesson challenges them not to be "suckers." He suggests that they should "wise up a bit" and realize that such "showing off" is not smart but that it really is being a "sucker." He concludes by saying he does not feel that these young people have really been delinquent in any respect except good sense.
"I can't get over it sometimes, how teenagers can be such suckers," says narrator/judge William B. McKesson. Like countless thirties gangster films, in which a thin veneer of moralizing makes possible a titillating presentation of forbidden conduct, Name Unknown lays out the penalties for seeking kicks.
Seemingly directed more at teenage girls than at boys, Name Unknown concentrates on transgressions that are sexual in nature. And just as these unfortunate teens are judged by summary rules that are long-gone, retribution is primitive and brutal. Let the fake newspaper headlines that appear in the film tell their own story: "BABY SITTER SLAIN BY UNKNOWN ASSAILANT" and "SCHOOL GIRL FOUND UNCONSCIOUS IN HILLS."
Channeled through the character of the judge, Davis speaks directly to the audience, addressing what he thinks they are thinking: "I suppose just about here the horselaughs are starting in the audiences. All right, go ahead and laugh! Of course, Ethel isn't laughing!" And again, at the end of the film, when sexually adventurous Edie Adams is going to a detention home for three months, "plenty of time to think about whether a few minutes of showing off or feeling sharp is worth a lifetime of regrets. If you're willing to risk that, you're not the young American men and women I think you are. Think it over. Why not get really wise! Really hep. Don't be a sucker!"
From the producer's description:
[Name Unknown] "does not use fear as a motive. Rather, a psychological appeal is employed. In this film, juveniles are shown how clever criminals, like a dishonest carnival 'sharper,' prey on the 'sucker,' the one who thinks he's smart enough to beat the game. Through several episodes — a 'lovers' lane,' 'baby sittings' and a 'pickup' — the teen-age boys and girls come to understand why it is much 'smarter' to be aware of possible perils and avoid them, than to seek a momentary 'thrill' or 'kick' by taking dangerous chances."
"We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation and assistance of Judge William B. McKesson of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, whose sense of duty and dedication to youth welfare led him to appear in this film."
Subject: Who's going to a detention home?
Subject: Go ahead, Laugh!
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